Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Are they going to help us now?

Article by Samantha Kett

“Are they going to help us now?”

The Costa Blanca News speaks to British expatriates in Montroy who have fallen foul of con-artists and been left with illegally-built homes that they do not own, embargoes on their properties, and no electricity or water...

“YOU think you're buying the dream, but what you've really bought is a total nightmare.”
These are the words of Vicky, 37, one of hundreds of homeowners on the non-existent Las Palomas urbanisation in Montroy who purchased their homes in good faith, only to discover they were illegally built and, in some cases, had been sold to several people at the same time.
Last week, the former mayor of Montroy, Javier Carrión, was taken into custody, but was freed the same day after paying bail to the tune of 8,500 euros.
Six others were arrested, including builders and property promoters, with bail payments ranging from 1,000 to 50,000 euros.
Between 2002 and 2006, when Carrión was in office, the total number of houses rose from 780 to 1,530, with new estate after new estate being built at his instigation.
And over 70 of these were built on farmland without planning permission, with numerous defects, and no mains water or electricity.
Their new owners, upon paying for their dream homes, discovered this – and worse, that they did not legally own either their houses or the land because of the illegality of it.
Whilst some have deeds to their properties, the fact they are built without planning permission means they do not truly belong to them.
And others have never been given their deeds, so the properties remain in the name of the developers.
These developers declared themselves bankrupt to avoid paying compensation if they were caught, leaving a string of creditors behind them – something that terrifies those homeowners who do not have deeds in their name.
Hundreds of British, Spanish, German and Scandinavian residents have effectively handed over their life's savings for a house that they do not own.
And even if the land is reclassified as 'urban', and legal to build upon, millions of euros' worth of infrastructure will be needed to make them habitable to the extent that the council will recognise them and consider them part of their jurisdiction.
The fact that the estate does not actually exist means that these residents have disappeared into a black hole – they cannot appear on the local census, and the council does not recognise that they are living in Montroy.

“Quite a few of the houses were double-sold”
“I was renting in Villamarxant and looking to buy, and my landlady told me about a few plots that her friends had bought between them in Montroy,” reveals Vicky, a former hairdresser, who now owns Cheers Bar in Monserrat, three kilometres away, with her partner Richard.
“She recommended the estate agency Morarim, S.L., and put me in touch with the agent, a German guy called Klaus.”
“Klaus the Louse,” interjects Danny, one of the British customers at Vicky and Richard's cosy, welcoming bar. His family, too, have fallen victim to the con-artists.
“He's dead now, apparently, but we don't believe that. We've heard he's hiding out in Dubai. But his business partner, Guillermo, is still around.”
“Well, in jail with a 50,000-euro bail release,” adds Vicky.
“In our case, we bought a resale property. The owners had allegedly sold it back to Morarim because they were ill and were returning to the UK, and we bought it from the agents.
“Then, the day we moved into the property we got a knock on the door – and there was this guy, saying he'd bought the same house! And now all the houses on the estate have embargoes on them.”
“Quite a few houses were double-sold,” Danny continues.
“The new owners were all sold the land as urban, but it was actually farmland so it's illegal to build on. It's going to cost you, what, 40,000 euros, minimum, for the infrastructure, isn't it?” asks John, another customer and friend of the bar owners, but who, luckily, does not live on the same estate.
“These people are my mates, and they've worked so hard for everything they've got – then they lose everything because of those bastards. I could hit them, I really could,” he continues.
“Going back to when I first bought the house,” Vicky continues, “we were told the electricity and water were connected, and that this connection was included in the price of the property. In fact, I was told, the day I looked at the development for the first time, that within a year we would have roads, streetlights, shops, bars, a park, a golf course, a hotel, a communal swimming pool and even a school bus.
“But the water and electricity weren't connected. So, I went to the information office and they said, 'we know, we have a problem but we're fixing it'. And nothing happened.
“It turned out the builders had not paid either their water or electricity bill, and the supply had been cut off. Next thing, the developers provided us all with generators, but they only run for 12 hours a day – usually in the mornings until noon, then from 17.00hrs until midnight. But even that's not guaranteed.”
“You never know, when you go home, whether you'll have hot water or lights on, whether you can use the computer or the TV,” Danny continues.
“And it costs about 280 euros a month to run the generators. That's about six times what the average household pays for electricity. I'm renting a house up there cheaply, because one of the people who was duped when they bought the property decided to let it for next to nothing when he realised he couldn't sell it. But the cost of the generator electricity means I'm really struggling to make ends meet.”
“We've lost so many electrical appliances because of power surges caused by the generators. Our computer went, and the washing machine, the fridge...but of course, as we're not on a mains supply we can't claim on the house insurance,” reveals Richard.
“The community of residents eventually raised the money to pay the water bill ourselves, so we're on tap, but we only get agricultural water since our houses are on farm land. It's not drinkable.

“They just laughed in our faces”
“At one stage, we were so pissed off. Our swimming pool had no boundary wall and was just sticking up out of the ground – there was a ten-foot drop down one side,” Richard carries on.
“There were loads of faults. Loads of construction defects,” Vicky adds. “And, of course, as the houses are illegal we don't get the usual ten-year guarantee on the structure, so we've got to find the money to fix them ourselves. We understand the builder has been arrested, although we're not sure that that's the case.”
“Our daughter, Jade, who's now 15, had a bad accident,” Richard continues. “She was 11 at the time. She tripped on a bit of metal sticking out from the pool, and had to go to the doctor every single day to have bits of gravel pulled out of her knee.”
“I even took her down to the office, showed them the bandaged knee and said, 'look! Are you going to do anything about it now?” says Vicky.
“But they just laughed. That's all they do. If we threatened to go to the police, they'd just laugh and say, go on then.”
“When we had to pay the last ten per cent of the purchase price, to get our deeds, I spoke with the office and they agreed to deduct the costs of the structural defects from that last payment,” Richard explains.
“So they sent a builder, but he did about a quarter of the work and then bogged off back to Germany!
“I was so mad. On every wall of our house I painted, 'Morarim are liars, do not buy here', but the next day they sent the builders in to paint over it.”
“Then there was that other guy who painted 'Morarim are crooks' on his garage door, but I think the builders painted over that, too,” Danny adds.
“We've been lied to again and again,” sighs Vicky.
“That's why we're all drunkards!” adds John, and everybody laughs. The camaraderie in Bar Cheers is one of a close-knit community of compatriots who sorely feel for each other, many of whom suffer the same plight. In fact, it seems to have become a local support group and a haven for the expats of Las Palomas – a place to relax, chat and laugh with their friends, enjoy a bit of home-cooked grub, and forget their troubles.
“If we didn't laugh, we'd cry,” Vicky clarifies. “We're the victims in this! We've been duped. They create an image of a dream, and sell you a nightmare.”
“Most of them are pensioners, the majority British, and with their pensions having gone down because of the exchange rate, they simply can't afford the legal fees to fight this and save their homes. They won't be able to afford the infrastructure if the land is, later, legalised, because they've already spent all their saving on their homes and they're struggling on their meagre pensions as it is,” explains Alan, a friend of John's. “And the Spanish administration is no help. They haven't done anything to help out.”

“It turned out he wasn't even a solicitor”
“My dad bought a plot here four years ago,” continues Danny, tucking into a tempting morsel of Vicky and Richard's 'lemon surprise' cake and cream.
“So did my aunt and uncle. They spent 80,000 and 60,000 pounds respectively, but the developers never built anything. The plots are still in Morarim's name and they don't own them. All they've got is a building contract and a sale-and-purchase contract, but that doesn't mean anything. They're not worth the paper they're written on.
“They had a dodgy solicitor. The estate agents insisted they use this German solicitor, Kai Wagner. He turned out not even to be a lawyer at all. He was going round reclassifying land as 'buildable' when he wasn't entitled to.
“I believe he's now in prison for doing something similar in the Dénia area. I heard about it from someone when I was in a restaurant in Jávea a while back.
“They've spoken to absolutely everyone. They've gone from solicitor to solicitor. But they've basically lost everything.”
“We're also in talks with a solicitor and we believe there are at least three criminal cases, and a number of civil cases running into nearly three figures, against Morarim,” Richard adds, “but we don't know if that's entirely true. It's what we've heard, anyway.”
So, what do they hope their solicitor will do?
“We hope he'll take action on our behalf to lift the embargo off the land. We're suing both the developers and the town hall, because they haven't done anything either and the ex-mayor has been arrested because he let it happen and apparently had links with the developers,” explains Vicky.
And what will their position be if the embargo is lifted?
“Much stronger,” she replies. “It means the house will, effectively, be ours. Once the embargoes have been lifted on all houses on the estate, their owners will be able to sell up if they want to. You can't sell a house with a repossession order on it.
“Lots of them probably will sell, because of the bad memories. But I don't want to. Just to wake up every morning and see the sun and the greenery, the red mountains and olive trees from your window – it's paradise. This is such a beautiful area to live in that it would be a shame if all this had a knock-on effect and nobody wanted to move here.”
“That's going to be the next problem – selling,” Danny adds. “As soon as estate agents hear the name 'Montroy', they'll act as though we've said a dirty word. Our case has tarred the town with the same brush.”
“If only people would get it into perspective,” Vicky agrees. “This is just a small area of the town, and there are hundreds of houses and urbanisations that are perfectly legal and okay. It doesn't mean the whole of Montroy is a dangerous place to live because you might lose your own home.”
And are they confident that the embargo will be lifted?
“I hope so. I know of other owners who've had their embargoes removed, so I guess there's no reason why the same shouldn't happen with ours,” says Richard.
“We're just in limbo. Nobody knows where they stand. Nobody knows what's going on. We're just all waiting for news,” Vicky confirms.

“We're in limbo – we just want to know that we're safe”
“The estate agency office looked so professional when I first saw it, so of course I didn't suspect they were fraudsters. All these official documents, architects' maps...” Vicky continued.
“We heard they were all forged,” adds Richard, “although we're not a hundred per cent sure of that.”
“And with the mayor in jail, and the story having come to light, are they going to help us now?” cries Vicky, with a note of desperation in her voice.
“We've got two children and a young baby at home.”
“And babies, as well as old people – and there are lots of those on our estate – need heating and hot water more than ever,” continues Danny. “But you never know from one day to the next whether you'll have any electricity, and if it goes off, you've no idea when – or if – it'll come back on.”
“People just want to know that their houses will not be taken off them. They just want to know they're safe,” Vicky concludes.
Vicky called a number of other residents on the development, but they refused to come down to the bar as they were too nervous to talk to the press, given their precarious situation.
But The Costa Blanca News has heard that Rodney, a former caretaker from Devon, and George, a retired project engineer, are in the same boat – after paying for their houses off-plan, they arrived to find them with no fences, swimming pools, water or electricity and discovered they had been illegally built.
Another British man actually went to the developers' office and threatened the manager with a stick, six years on from buying his defective house, for which he does not have the deeds.
Richard explained that some of the people paid 100 per cent of the purchase cost up front, amid promises that this would mean their homes would be the first to be built if they did so.
Now, all the residents of the non-existent Las Palomas urbanisation can do is wait – and hope that a solution can be found so that they no longer have to live with the threat of losing their own homes hanging over them like a black cloud.

1 comment:

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